Bosniaks are named after Bosnia, the westernmost Balkan region held by the Turks. It is important to note that not all of the Muslims of the Balkans are Bosniaks; there are other groups of Slavic Muslims (such as the people who still declare nationality as "Muslims" or the Pomaks) as well as non-Slavic Muslim Albanians, Turks, and Roma and Sinti.
The earliest known inhabitants of the area now known as Bosnia and Herzegovina were the Illyrians, who spoke a language related to modern Albanian. The Romans conquered Illyria after a series of wars, and Latin-speaking settlers from all over the empire settled among the Illyrians. The Roman province of Dalmatia included Herzegovina and most of Bosnia, and a strip of northern Bosnia, south of the Sava River, was part of the province of Pannonia. Modern Albanians trace their ancestry to the ancient Illyrians, and the Vlachs, a historically nomadic people who live throughout the Balkans, speak a language derived from Latin, and are thought to be the descendants of Roman settlers and Romanized Illyrians. It is important to note that Illyrians probably make up a very large part of the ancestry of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Genetic studies have shown that central Yugoslavs only had 20% of the "Slav gene" compared to 40% for their Northern counterparts.
The Germanic Goths conquered Roman Dalmatia in the fifth century, and later the Alans, who spoke an Iranian language, and the Turkic Huns and Avars passed through what is now Bosnia. These invaders left few linguistic traces, and whatever remnant populations were left behind were absorbed by the Slavic wave that was to follow.
Slavs settled in Bosnia, Herzegovina, and the surrounding lands, which were then part of the Eastern Roman Empire, in the seventh century. The Slavic Serbs and Croats settled sometime after the first wave of Slavs. The Croats established a kingdom in what is now central Croatia and northwestern Bosnia. The Serbs settled in what is now central Serbia, and later expanding into the upper Drina valley of eastern Bosnia and into Herzegovina, known in the later Middle Ages as Hum. The Croats to the west came under the influence of the Germanic Carolingian Empire and the Roman Catholic Church, and Croatia was closely tied to Hungary and later Austria until the twentieth century. The Serbs to the east came under periodic Byzantine rule, converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and absorbed Byzantine cultural influences. After some centuries of rule by Croatia, Serb principalities, and the Byzantine Empire, an independent Bosnian kingdom flourished in central Bosnia between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries.
Medieval Bosnia and Ottoman rule
The Bosnian Kingdom blended cultural influences from east and west; although nominally Roman Catholic, the Bosnian kings embraced elements of Byzantine culture and court ceremonial, and formed alliances and dynastic marriages with the neighboring rulers of both Croatian-Dalmatian and Serb states. At its largest extent, under King Tvrtko Kotromanic, the Bosnian Kingdom included most of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the exception of north-western Bosnia, as well as parts of Dalmatia and western Serbia. Discord among his heirs weakened the kingdom after his death, and Bosnia and the Serb principalities to the east were unable to prevent Ottoman Turkish incursions into the western Balkans. The final Turkish conquest in 1463 marked the end of an independent Bosnia and the beginning of the influence of a third civilization, Islam.
Historians have debated how and why the Slav population in Bosnia converted in such large numbers to Islam. The religious situation in Bosnia before the Turkish conquest was complex and unclear. Prior to 1463, Eastern Orthodoxy was probably limited to the upper Drina River valley and to Herzegovina (Hum), which was predominantly Orthodox. The rest of Bosnia was nominally Roman Catholic, with a large segment of the population belonging to an indigenous Bosnian Church (krstjani, "Christians"). The Krstjani were considered heretics by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Modern historians have debated whether the Krstjani were a branch of the Bogomils, a Manichean sect which originated in Bulgaria, or whether they were members of the Catholic Church who had acquired some heretical beliefs and influences from Eastern Orthodoxy and fell into Schism. Part of the resistance of the Bosnian Church was political; during the fourteenth century, the Catholic Church placed Bosnia under a Hungarian bishop, and the schism may have been motivated by a desire for independence from Hungarian domination. Because of Bosnia's mountainous and inaccessible terrain and its remote location on the borderland between the Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, control by church authorities was weak. Historically it was thought that the Krstjani, who were persecuted by both the Catholics and the Orthodox, accounted for many of the converts to Islam. However, such an opinion is largely discredited among contemporary scholars (John Fine, Noel Malcolm, Maja Miletic, Srecko Dzaja) who pointed out that the number of adherents of Bosnian Church in the eve of Ottoman invasion did not surpass several hundred men and women and that the process of Islamization took more than three centuries.
Although the Ottomans did not, as a rule, actively seek to convert their Christian subjects to Islam, it is thought that the greater rights afforded to Muslims in the Ottoman Empire motivated Christians to convert to Islam. The very loose control the Church had in Bosnia at the time undoubtedly also contributed to this. The Ottomans imported their feudal system to Bosnia after the conquest, and estates were granted to men, called spahis, in return for military service in times of war. At the beginning of the Ottoman period, these estates were usually, but not exclusively, granted to Muslims, and later only to Muslims. In Bosnia, these land grants gradually became hereditary, and by the end of the Ottoman period, a majority of the landowners in Bosnia were Muslims, and most Christians were peasants or serfs (raya). Christian and Jewish subjects of the Sultan paid a 'poll tax' from which Muslims were exempt. Slaves who converted to Islam could petition for their freedom, and it is possible that some of the Christians enslaved during the wars with Austria, Hungary, and Venice converted to Islam in order to secure their release.
Many Christians became Muslims through the devsirme system, whereby Christian boys were gathered from the Ottoman lands and were sent to Istanbul to convert to Islam and be trained as Janissary troops, servants of the Sultan or Ottoman officials. The system began in the fifteenth century and had ceased to operate by the middle of the seventeenth century, when the Ottomans shifted to a paid professional army and the title of Janissary became a symbol of rank. However, Jannisaries served throughout the Ottoman Empire, and their descendants live throughout the former Ottoman lands. They had no right to marry until 1566, and even then could not marry until their retirement, although some Janissaries did return to Bosnia to raise families. Janissary settlers probably did not influence the demographics of Bosnia sigificantly, although many of Bosnia's Pashas and other officials were of Bosnian Christian origin through the devsirme system.
As the Ottoman Empire began to contract after the defeat at Vienna in 1683, many Muslim refugees from the lost Ottoman territories in Croatia, Slavonia, Hungary, and, later, Serbia found refuge in Bosnia, and were assimilated into the local Bosniak population.
Traditionally, the Turkish authorities classed subjects of the Empire not by nationality, but by religion. During the nineteenth century, modern national consciousness began to increase among the south Slavs; some historians now believe that it was in this period that Catholic Bosnians increasingly began to think of themselves as Croats, and Orthodox Bosnians as Serbs. The beginnings of a Muslim Slav national consciousness is also first attested in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as these early Bosniak nationalists began to assert a national identity distinct from both their Orthodox and Catholic neighbors, and from the other Muslim inhabitants of the empire. Some Serb and Croat nationalists tend to deny a separate Bosnian (later Bosniak) national identity, instead claiming that Bosniaks were either Serb or Croat in origin, but of Muslim religion. This debate, whether Bosnia and the Bosniaks are "really" Croats, Serbs, or a separate Bosnian/Bosniak nation, has energized debates among nationalists until the present day.
Like national identity in Bosnia and Herzegovina in general, Bosniak national identity is chiefly based on religion and communal feeling, as opposed to linguistic and/or physical differences from their neighbors. In that sense, the earliest foundation of modern Bosniak national development can be found as early as the beginning of the 18th century, as native Bosnian Muslims found themselves often fighting against the empire's enemies by their own (i.e. the Battle of Banja Luka, where the city's garrison was composed entirely of Bosniaks). On top of present cultural uniqueness, by the first half of the 19th century upper class Bosniaks and intellectuals were already propagating what can be considered early Bosniak nationalism, by way of writing and politics, all of which would later lead to the Bosniak rebirth at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
Austro-Hungarian rule and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Bosnia and Herzegovina were occupied and administered by Austria-Hungary in 1878, and a number of Bosniaks left Bosnia and Herzegovina. Official Austro-Hungarian records show that 56,000 people emigrated between 1883 and 1920, but the number of emigrants is probably larger, as the official record doesn't reflect emigration before 1883, nor include those who left without permits. Most of the emigrants were probably Bosniaks, who either had no desire to live under Christian rule or fled in fear of retribution after the intercommunal violence of the 1875-1878 uprising. Many Serbs from Herzegovina left for America during the same period. One geographer estimates that there are now 350,000 "Bosniaks" in Turkey, although that figure includes the descendants of Muslim Slavs who emigrated from Sandzak region during the First Balkan War and later. Another wave of emigration occurred after the end of the First World War, when Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, known after 1929 as Yugoslavia.
Urban Bosniaks were particularly proud of their cosmopolitan culture, especially in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, which was, until WWII, home to thriving Bosniak, Serb, Croat, and Jewish communities. After 1945, Sarajevo became one of the most ethnically mixed cities in the former Yugoslavia.
The Struggle for Recognition
With the dawn of Illyrian movement, Muslim intelligentsia gathered around magazine Bosnia in the 1860s promoted the idea of a Bosniak nation. A member of this group was father of Savfet-beg Bašagić, a famous Bosniak poet. The Bosniak group would remain active for several decades, with the continuity of ideas and the use of the archaic Bosniak name. From 1891 until 1910 they published a magazine titled Bosniak. By the turn of centuries, however, this group has all but died out, due to its most prominent members either dying or deciding for Croat identity, the latter including Savfet-beg Bašagić himself.
The administration of Benjamin Kallay, the Austria-Hungarian governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, enforced the idea of a unitary Bosnian nation (Bosanci) that would include the Catholic and Orthodox Bosnians as well as Muslims. The idea was fiercely opposed by Croats and Serbs, but also by a number of Muslims. This policy further clouded the Bosnian ethnical issue and made the Bosniak group seem as pro-regime. After Kallays death in 1903, the official policy slowly drifted towards accepting the three-ethnical reality of Bosnia.
Muslim National Organization (MNO), a political party founded in 1906, was a major opponent of the regime that promoted the idea of Muslims as a separate entity from Serbs and Croats. A group of dissidents that, among else, subscribed with the Croat Muslim identity formed a party named Muslim Proggressive Party (MNS), however it received little popular support and faded away in the next few years.
The first constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1910 explicitely mentioned Serbs, Croats and Muslims as the "native peoples". This was reflected in the elections held soon thereafter, when the electoral was divided into Serb, Croat and Muslim ballot. MNO, Serb National Organization (SNO) and Croat National Community (HNZ) received almost unanimous vote in their respective ballots, and their members formed the parliament, albeit this parliament had little power in the Austria-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina. All translations of the Constitution into native languages used lower-case M for Muslims.
After the World War I, Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes which later transformed into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The Serb monarchy, being one of the victors of the World War, sought Croat and Slovene political parties as their partners when forming the country. MNO, reformed into Yugoslav Muslim Organization (JMO), dropped the pursuit of Muslim national identity and focused on protecting the religious and existential issues of Muslims through coalescing with other parties, sometimes even with the extreme Serb Radicals.
In 1921 census, only Serbs, Croats and Slovenes were recognized as native nations or "tribes", and these were the only available options for ethnicity. The result was that a large number of Bosniaks simply left the field for ethnicity blank. This phenomena, labeled nonethnical element (nenarodni element), was a topic of a heated debate amongst scholars and politicians for years to follow. Some of them argued that the nonethnical element are descendants of the Turkish occupator and as such should be expelled. Nevertheless, thanks to the helpful influence of JMO, there were only isolated incidents of oppression against Bosniaks.
This political void was quickly filled with a number of opposition parties which recognized Muslims as a separate nation. Among them was the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, as a document from 1930s reveals. It's no coincidence that a large number of Bosnian Muslims joined the Communist Party, and later the partisans, and many of them became prominent political leaders and commandants.
During the World War II, the authorities of the Nazi-puppet Independent State of Croatia tried to ally with the Bosniaks whom they considered to be "Muslim Croats" against the Serbs and other "undesirables". As a token, the Artists Gallery museum (by Ivan Mestrovic) in Zagreb was furnished with minarets and ceded to be used as a mosque.
The Declaration of the State Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ZAVNOBiH), issued on November 25th of 1943 by the partisan government, is widely considered to be the constitutional basis of the modern Bosnia and Herzegovina. This document uses essentially the same wording as the 1910 Constitution. Furthermore, the Resolution of ZAVNOBiH states: "Today, the nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, through their only political representative - the ZAVNOBiH, desire that their country, which is neither Serb, nor Croat nor Muslim, but Serb as well as Croat and Muslim, should be the free and joined Bosnia and Herzegovina in which the full equality, legal and otherwise, of Serbs, Muslims and Croats will be guaranteed".
Unfortunately, this declaration was broken as soon as the World War II was over, as the Constitution of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia (later Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) mentioned Serbs and Croats, but not Muslims, as the native nations (narodi). In the Yugoslav census of 1948, 90% of Muslims in Yugoslavia declared themselves as "nationally undetermined". When the "Yugoslav, nationally undeclared" option became available in 1953, 900,000 people registered as such.
With a weakening of Serb dominance in Bosnian communist leadership, the door opened up for a new national identification. Finally in the 1961 Yugoslav census, the "Muslims in the ethnic sense" option first appeared. By 1963 Muslims were listed in the Bosnian constitution alongside Serbs and Croats. Finally, in 1968, "Muslims" with a capital M was adopted as the term for a member of a nation rather than "muslims" as adherents to Islam.
The decision wasn't greeted without debate among communist leadership, but Bosniaks had made themselves clear. "Practice has shown the harm of different froms of pressure... from the earlier period when Muslims were designated as Serbs or Croats from the national viewpoint. It has been shown, and present socialist practice confirms, that the Muslims are a distinct nation".
From then until the Yugoslav wars, Bosniak national identity continued to develop with two different philosophies forming. These breakthroughs in the 60s were not carried out by religious Muslims (in fact, they were headed chiefly by secular Muslim communists) but in the following decades two separate schools of thought emerged. The first, was a secular "Muslim Nationalism", and the second was a separate revival of Islamic religious belief (advocated by people such as Alija Izetbegović). The effects of these two separate ideas on what exactly Bosnian Muslims are can be seen to this day.
In September 1993, the Congress of Bosnian Muslim Intellectuals adopted the term Bosniak instead of the previously used Muslim. Other nationalities objected to the name as a ploy to monopolize the history of Bosnia and make them seem to be foreign invaders (see History of Bosnia and Herzegovina). The term in itself means Bosnian and is an archaic term that was once used for all inhabitants of Bosnia regardless of faith. Bosniaks counter by pointing out that Bosniak has been a historical ethnic term for their nation since the 19th century, and that had they truly wanted to "monopolize" Bosnian history it would have been far easier to adopt the name "Bosnian" in itself instead of using the more archaic version.
Since the 1990s, the name has been adopted outside of Bosnia itself, onto the Slavic Muslim population of other former Yugoslav republics such as Serbia and Macedonia. It allows a Bosniak/Bosnian distinction to match the Serb/Serbian and Croat/Croatian distinctions between ethnicity and residence.
Bosniak folklore has a long tradition dating back to the 15th century. Like many other elements of Bosniak culture, their folklore is a mix of Slavic and Oriental influences, typically taking place prior to the 19th century.
Two popular characters seen often in Bosniak folklore are the trickster and the Hero. Probably the most famous example of the first is that of Nasrudin Hodža, where local folklore has him taking part in various episodes in a Bosnian setting. Other tricksters include an old wise man in the legend behind the old Sarajevo Orthodox church. Supposedly, a local official demanded that the church be built on land no bigger than an animal hide. The wise man then cut the hide into thin strips and laying them end to end was able to demarcate enough land to build a reasonably sized church.
National heroes are typically historical figures, whose life and skill in battle are emphasised. These include figures such as Gazi Husrev-beg, the second Ottoman governor of Bosnia who conquered many territories in Dalmatia, Northern Bosnia, and Croatia, and Gerz Eljaz Đerzelez Alija, an almost mythic character who even the Ottoman Sultan was said to have called "A Hero".
Old Slavic influences can also be seen. Ban Kulin has acquired legendary status. "Even today," wrote the historian William Miller in 1921 "the people regard him as a favorite of the fairies, and his reign as a golden age." Characters such as fairies, Vila, are also present. Pre-Slavic influences are far less common but nonetheless present. Certain elements of Illyrian, and Celtic belief have been found.
Generally, folklore also varies from area to area and city to city. Cities like Sarajevo and Mostar have a rich tradition all by themselves. Many manmade structures such as bridges and fountains, as well as natural sites, play a significant role as well.
Bosniaks would say that they speak Bosnian language. This language has only minor differences to the Serbian language, Croatian language or the language that used to be known as Serbo-Croatian. Bosniaks are probably understood by somewhere between 30 to 40 million people worldwide. Bosniaks themselves can also understand written Slovenian and Macedonian fairly well.
It is notable that Bosniaks are, on the level of colloquial idiom, more linguistically homogenous than either Serbs or Croats, but have failed, due to historical reasons, to standardize their language in the crucial 19th century. A long history of impressive literature remains however. The first Bosnian dictionary was written by Muhamed Hevaji Uskufi in the early 17th century.
Bosniaks also have two of their own unique scripts. The first is the Begovica, a descendant of local cyrillic script that remained in use among the region's nobility. The second is the Arabica, a version of the Arabic alphabet modified for Bosnian that was in use among nearly all literate Bosniaks until the 20th century. Unfortunately, both alphabets have all but died out, as the number of people literate in them today is undoubtedly minuscule.
Traditionally, Bosniaks are Muslims. However, due to more modern influences, many Bosniaks have Atheist, Agnostic or Deist beliefs (Pre war estimate of 10% of total population). The overwhelming number of Bosniak Muslims belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, although historically Sufism played a significant role in the country.
Being part of Europe and influenced not only by the Eastern but also by the Western culture (including Yugoslav Communism), the Bosniak Muslims are considered to be some of the most modern Islamic peoples of the world.
Bosniaks also have a reputation for being "liberal" Muslims. Headscarves for women, popular in middle-eastern countries, are worn only by a small minority of Bosniak Muslim women, and otherwise mostly for religious obligations. Muhammad's birthday, technically not allowed by conservative Islam, is widely celebrated. Saudi-sponsored Wahabbism has tried to make a foothold in the country since the 1990s, but it has failed to make a significant impact.
Surnames and Names
Bosniak surnames, as is typical among the South Slavs, often end with "ić" or "ović". This basically translates to "son of" in English and plays the same role as "Son" in English surnames such as Johnson or Wilson. What comes prior to this can often tell a lot about the history of a certain family.
Most Bosniak surnames follow a familiar pattern dating from the period of time that surnames in Bosnia and Herzegovina were standardized. This pattern typically has the name of the founder of the family first, followed by an oriental profession or title, and ending with ić. Examples of this include Izetbegović (Son of Izet bey), and Hadžiosmanović (Son of Osman Hajji). Other variations of this pattern can include surnames that only mention the name, such as Osmanović (Son of Osman), and surnames that only mention profession, such as Imamović (Son of the Imam).
Some Bosniak names have nothing oriental about them, but end in ić. These names have probably stayed the same since medieval times, and typically come from old Bosnian nobility, or come from the last wave of converts to Islam. Examples of such names include Tvrtković and Kulenović.
Yet many Bosniak's have surnames that do not end in ić at all. These surnames are typically derived from place of origin, occupations, or various others such factors in the family's history. Examples of such surnames include Zlatar and Foćo.
Many Bosniak national names are of foreign origin, indicating that the founder of the family came from a place outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many such Bosniak surnames have Hungarian, Vlach or Turkish origins. Examples of such surnames include Vlasić and Arapović.
First names among Bosniaks have mostly Arabic, Turkish, or Persian roots, similar to the way that many English names have Christian origins despite it being a Germanic language. Slavic names such as "Zlatan" are also popular. What is notable however is that due to the structure of the Bosnian language, many of the oriental names have been altered to create uniquely Bosniak names. Some of the Arabic names have been shortened.
The most famous example of this is that of the stereotypical Bosniak characters Mujo and Suljo, whose names are actually Bosniak short forms of Mustafa and Suleyman. More popular still is the transformation of names that in Arabic or Turkish are confined to one gender to apply to the other sex. In Bosnian, simply taking away the letter "a" changes the traditionally feminine "Jasmina" into the popular male name "Jasmin". Similarly, adding an "a" to the typically male "Mahir" results in the feminine "Mahira".
Bosniaks have a wide number of historical symbols that are associated them. Traditional Bosniak colors are green, white, yellow, and blue. The two best known Bosniak national symbols are the crescent moon and the Lillicum Bosniacum.
The earliest Bosniak flags date from the Ottoman era, and are typically a white crescent moon and star on a green background. The flag of the short-lived independent Bosnian state was the same except that the moon and star were golden.
The old flag of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the flag of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina are also associated with Bosniaks. They are based on medieval designs from the Bosnian kingdom, and were originally meant to represent the entire country of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Some Bosniak organizations combine the two, adopting symbols with a crescent moon where a Lillicum Bosniacum (a fleur-de-lis) replaces the traditional star. Other variations of combining the two exist. A notable one is the seal of the Bosniaks in Sandzak, which is based on the old Bosnian flag but changes one half of the seal so that instead of yellow lillies on a blue background there are yelllow crescent moons on a green background.
The Unofficial Flag of the Bosniaks, used at small numbers at the moment, it is a Islamic version of their current flag.
Traditions and Customs
The nation takes pride in the melancholic folk songs sevdalinka, the precious medieval filigree manufactured by old Sarajevo craftsmen, and a wide array of traditional wisdoms that are carried down to newer generations by word of mouth, and in recent years written down in numerous books.
Most Slavic Muslim inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina, around 1,9 million of them, identify themselves as ethnically Bosniak. Outside of Bosnia, around 136,000 Slavic Muslims of Serbia and around 63,000 in Montenegro (mostly in the Sandžak region shared by both Serbia and Montenegro) register as Bosniaks, as well as around 20,000 Slavic Muslims in Croatia, another 20,000 in Slovenia, and around 17,000 in the Republic of Macedonia. Many people in Turkey are also descended from Bosniaks, but the precise numbers are unknown.
The Bosniak diaspora is notable in Sweden and other Western European countries, as well as the United States (Saint Louis, New York, Chicago), Canada (Toronto and Vancouver) and Australia. Overall there are probably between 2.5 and 3 million Bosniaks in the world.
The cities with the largest Bosniak population are Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica, Mostar, Bihać, and Novi Pazar. Saint Louis, Missouri in the United States has the largest Bosniak population outside of the Balkans.
Main Article: List of Bosniaks
Some of the Bosniaks who have achieved fame or note include:
bs:Bošnjaci de:Bosniaken hr:Bošnjaci